The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Friday, September 22, 2006

The Bhutanese Refugee Problem- Rajan Pokhrel

The Bhutanese Refugee Problem
After years of living in camps the displaced are longing for home
Rajan Pokhrel (rajanp)

Published 2006-09-22 16:35 (KST)

Since the late 1980s and early 1990s the royal government of Bhutan, in a calculated campaign, has revoked the citizenship and evicted more than 100,000 Bhutanese citizens. These citizens were driven from Bhutan and came into Nepal through India. For almost 16 years now they have been living as refugees in seven camps in eastern Nepal.

Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal
Population per camp

Timai 10,253
Beldangi (I) 18,200
Beldangi (II) 22,225
Beldangi (III) 11,142
K/bari 13,436
Goldhap 9,500
Sanischare 20,090
Total 104,846
Source: Bhutanese refugee human rights organizations

The issue of Bhutanese Refugees has now become a long story. Sixteen years have passed by and still there is no solution in sight that the Bhutanese refugees will ever go back to Bhutan. It is indeed a long period of time for the refugees to remain in the slum-like refugee camps and survive on begged alms and charity handouts. Sixteen years that have passed in bamboo huts in refugee camps in eastern Nepal is indeed a long period of time for the oppressed people who are equally tormented by frustration.Despite the 15 rounds of bilateral talks between the governments of Bhutan and Nepal; efforts from the refugees' side for repatriation and pressure from various international levels for the repatriation of Bhutanese refugees, the Bhutanese refugee problem is gearing up towards an even more grave situation.I talked to some of the Bhutanese refugees and other people whom I met, and telephoned them in Kathmandu and Jhapa over the past two weeks.Bhutanese refugee Nar Bahadur Karki has a dream to return Bhutan. "I always remember my small house and the cultivated land," Karki said, adding that bilateral talks between Nepal and Bhutan are needed for the early repatriation of the refugees. Another Yognath Dhungel, opposed the proposal for third country repatriation. "My motherland is more lovely than heaven. I want to be back at any cost," Dhungel said. According to him they are facing innumerable problems in the camps in Nepal.Netra Dahal accused India and Nepal of not pressurizing Bhutan's government to solve the problem. "It is an international issue but not only the problem of Nepal," Dahal said, adding that the international community must play its role in solving the problem. Rama Kharel, who is residing at a camp with her 7-member family, asked the concerned authorities to manage her (refugees) repatriation to Bhutan. "I want to die in my country," she reluctantly said.One of the Bhutanese refugees' leaders, Ram Chandra Sigdel, who had led the self-repatriation campaign in the past, said the refugees have high hopes from the newly formed democratic government of Nepal. He urged the government to take firm steps in solving the problem of refugees and said that international pressure is also required to solve the problem.Bhaktmaya Sharma, Durga Tamang, Gita Devi Pokhrel, Tilrupa Dulal and Baliraj Khadka are among the many refugees who dream of returning to their homeland. They asked the United Nations High Commissions for Refugees (UNHCR) to expedite necessary process for their repatriation.Bhutanese refugees have a right to return home, for which, India's mediation is necessary since it is not just Nepal's problem, said Pradip Pokharel, advisor of Amnesty International Nepal. "The government should form a refugee commission to look into the cases and problems of refugees," he said.The bilateral meeting between Nepal and Bhutan held in Oct. 2003 had agreed to begin repatriation of refugees at Khudunabari camp, but the whole process could not move forward after the refugees at the camp and Bhutanese officials had differences on Dec. 23 of the same year. The repatriation process as well as the government level talks couldn't be established until that date.Meanwhile, UNHCR has now come up with the response "Durable Solution" for the Bhutanese refugees' problem. UNHCR's response is an unambiguous answer to our voice, said Homnath Baral, a member of the Refugee Rights Coordinating Committee (RRCC).According to Baral, the Bhutanese issue needs a political solution. Baral welcomed the proposal of UNHCR to find out the durable solution of the problem.Bhutanese refugee Pingala Magar said they no longer want to live as refugees and their patience has run out. "We welcome the UNHCR's proposal for resettlement," she added.
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Leader of the U.S. Congressmen's delegation, Jim Kolbe, who visited Nepal recently, told Bhutan that America could absorb up to 70,000 Bhutanese refugees languishing in various camps in eastern Nepal. "The U.S. has agreed to take up to 50,000 or up to 70,000 of these people. Australia and Canada has also agreed to take in smaller numbers," Kolbe is quoted as saying in a report posted to Kuenselonline, the Bhutanese government's official website. Republican Congress member Kolbe, led a U.S. congressional delegation to Bhutan on a three-day visit from Aug. 28-31.

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